Bhopal collector Moti Singh in 1984, the year the city suffered what is considered the world’s worst industrial disaster after a gas leak from the Union Carbide plant, hardly knew the tragedy would haunt him again through his book.
Moti Singh and then superintendent of police Swaraj Puri accompanied Union Carbide Corporation chairman Warren Anderson to the airport after they were told to let him go within hours of his arrest in Bhopal on December 7, 1984.
Moti Singh’s book submitted before the court as evidence against him
Moti Singh’s book, ‘Unfolding the betrayal of Bhopal Gas Tragedy (2008)’, has been submitted before a court as evidence against him for facilitating Anderson’s escape. Activist Abdul Jabbar used the book as evidence in his 2010 petition against allowing Anderson to flee.
The court on Saturday ordered lodging of an FIR against Moti Singh and Puri, and summoned them on December 8 for their statements.
‘If Anderson was arrested on a written order, how was he allowed to go on a verbal order?’
It remains a mystery as to who made the call or calls to then chief minister Arjun Singh, and then to Moti Singh and other senior officials directing them to let Anderson go. “If Anderson was arrested on a written order, how could he be allowed to go on a verbal order and not be produced before court?” asked Jabbar.
Moti Singh writes in his book that Anderson had a “gas mask in his hand”. “Same day on an urgent call, I along with SP met the chief secretary at around half past two in the afternoon…The CS said Anderson was to be sent to New Delhi immediately by the state plane which was ready at Bairagarh airport. He also directed that this plane must take off by 3 o’clock…”
On escorting Anderson, Moti Singh writes, “With a view to maintain secrecy, neither there was any pilot vehicle nor any follow guard. My driver was driving the car, SP was sitting on the front and I was with Anderson in the rear…. Then (we) went straight to the airport. Anderson left Bhopal by the state plane and reached Delhi in the night.”
‘Anderson used the phone in his room in full measure to overturn everything’
“One lapse on our part to disconnect the telephone in the room in which Anderson was lodged proved crucial and turning point in the whole episode. Possibly for want of time, police couldn’t properly check the room of Anderson and the telephone facility continued to remain there. Anderson used this phone in full measure to overturn everything.”
Moti Singh couldn’t be contacted for his take on the court order. Swaraj Puri said, “Let me see the papers first. I was out of Bhopal and I have just reached. After going through the documents, I will comment.”
Arjun Singh, who is no more, also wrote about Anderson’s escape in his autobiography, ‘A Grain of Sand in the Hourglass of Time (2012)’. He says when he came to know on December 4 that Anderson was coming to Bhopal, he decided to arrest him. He called Moti Singh and Swaraj Puri.
“When they arrived at my residence, I handed over a piece of paper to Puri in which I had written out clear instructions to arrest Anderson…(Normally the chief minister does not give written instructions, but given the gravity of this case, I felt I had to put everything in black and white because I knew the tremendous pressure that the SP and the DM would be subjected to while carrying out their duty)…”
After Anderson’s arrest, Arjun Singh joined then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in an election campaign in Harda district and informed him about the action.“I had to order the arrest of Anderson to retain the confidence that the people had reposed in me. Rajiv heard me out quietly but made no comment. A little later, while we were touring, I received a wireless message from Brahma Swaroop (the then state chief secretary), informing me that a top official from the union home affairs had rung him repeatedly from New Delhi advising us to make sure that bail was granted to Anderson, after that we were instructed to send him to New Delhi in ‘a state plane’. I told the chief secretary that he should ‘do what is required’,” Arjun Singh writes.
“I came to know later that the union home secretary RD Pradhan, upon the instructions of the union home minister PV Narsimha Rao, had telephoned Brahma Swaroop…” he writes.